Atheists can be stupid, too

This is the worst case of atheist buttery I’ve ever seen. I’m left with this terribly greasy, bloated feeling after going through it, and I think my arteries were clogging up just reading it. This fellow Malcolm Knox is an atheist who happily sends his kids off to the Catholic church, which is just fine (his wife is Catholic)…but he’s got to rattle off ten terrible, awful, stupid excuses for why he has to do it. It’s embarrassing how pathetic his reasoning is. And my SIWOTI syndrome compels me to take each one apart.

  1. In his 1995 open letter to his 10-year-old daughter Juliet, Dawkins counselled her against belief based on “tradition, authority or revelation”. Because children, he writes, are “suckers for traditional information, they are likely to believe anything the grown-ups tell them”. If this is true, surely it applies to atheism as much as to belief. To keep my children out of church would be to impose my unbelief upon them by the exact mechanism that Dawkins warns against.

    False dichotomy. Not sending kids off to be indoctrinated in church does not imply that you are instead sitting them down and preaching atheism at them. If they want to go, let them; if they don’t, let ’em stay home. That is not imposing beliefs on them, quite the opposite, it is giving them the freedom to choose.

  2. Imagine growing up in a world where the most imposing monuments of architecture are unknown places. Do atheists really want their children to think of churches as fearsome compounds of weirdness?


    And seriously, you can explain to them what a building is for without sending them to sit in it for a few hours every week. With that attitude, he’s going to have to troop the kids off to every little architectural oddity for instruction.

  3. I don’t believe Jesus raised Lazarus, or walked on water, or fed the masses with those loaves and fishes. I don’t believe in the seven-day Creation, the Flood, the burning bush or the parting of the Red Sea. Yet I cannot imagine feeling at home in Australia without knowing those stories.

    So buy a book of Bible stories. They’re cheap and common. Really, it doesn’t take tedious weekly instruction to get the gist of the major stories in the Bible.

    Unless your kids are really stupid. I’m beginning to think Mr Knox has little respect for his children, since they apparently have to be repetitively hammered with Genesis before they’ll recognize Noah’s Ark.

  4. When (not if) my children rebel, it would have more meaning if they knew what they were rebelling against. I mean rebellion in the broadest sense: artistic creativity, inventing secret languages, striking out for independence. I mean rebellion in the sense that I rebel against Hitchens’s 300-page anti-religion harangue, God Is Not Great, even though I agree with every word. There’s something particularly bullying about singing in the choir being preached to.

    So you send your kids off to literally sing in the choir being preached to? This makes no sense. Maybe it would be of benefit to the children to rebel against something rational and interesting; is he really pretending that he’s sending them to church so they’ll someday have an easy mark to flail against?

  5. So they may come home with unanswerable questions. Who made God? Why can St Mary save some sick people and not others? I send my children to church not to find the answers – they won’t – but to come home with more questions. With unanswerable questions, they can puncture the infantile myth of their father’s omniscience.

    Hey, how about having them come home with difficult, interesting questions? Like what are neutrinos, how are traits stored on chromosomes, and daddy, can we dissect the roadkill in front of the house? I think it’s great to encourage kids to ask questions, but why settle for stupid questions?

  6. There is one basic distinction for which I admire the Catholic Church. As the coverage of Mary MacKillop’s canonisation showed, even if you reject the mumbo-jumbo of miracles, there is much to be gained from the example of selflessness.

    I grew up going to church. There were nice people there. But they did not have a monopoly on selflessness, and it is offensive for Mr Knox to be perpetuationg the myth that they do.

  7. Without it, they can never be tolerant, only indifferent. As Hitchens reminds us, churches have been bastions of religious exclusivity and intolerance. But the great crimes of the 20th century were alliances of the fundamentalist few and the indifferent many.

    Wait, what? I thought you just said they were bastions of selflessness.

    And once again, Knox plays the false dichotomy card. Not going to church every week is not synonymous with complete ignorance of and indifference to religion.

  8. Religion is not synonymous with ethics. The content of NSW’s proposed schools ethics classes has been robustly debated. But to substitute ethics for scripture is akin to replacing food with vitamin pills. Biblical parables, or teachings from Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or any other religion, may contain ethical lessons. They may not. But they do much else besides.

    What? Mr Knox does not say. There’s just something in those old superstitions he wants taught, which is not an argument.

  9. Kids don’t get indoctrinated that easily. If children’s minds were putty, they would emerge into adulthood caring for the underdog, distrusting materialism, cherishing the environment and standing up against the corrupt. These (Judeo-Christian) precepts are embedded in pretty much all of the children’s film, television and literature I’ve ever seen. Do children grow up to embrace those beliefs? The evidence suggests otherwise.

    See #4. When it’s convenient, Mr Knox argues that kids will rebel against what they’re taught; when it suits him, he claims that they ignore what they’re taught. Which is it?

    Also, he has a pollyannaish view of film, tv, and literature. Maybe he should take the kids to see the latest Saw film instead of Veggie Tales.

  10. Because I had to. When my son finished his first Communion classes after two months of Sundays, he was in a celebratory mood. “Yay, now I don’t have to go to church any more!” “Not so fast,” I said. “There’s still confirmation.” He wasn’t too pleased. “But you don’t have to go to church every Sunday.” I replied: “I did when I was your age.” Did it do me any good? Possibly. It didn’t make me a believer, but it left me with some knowledge of what I was unbelieving in.

    “I had to suffer when I was your age, so you get to be miserable, too”. Wow. Give that man a parenting award!

None of these were reasonable arguments for sending your kids to church every week. Not one. These are feeble exercises in rationalizing an irrational decision.

And his conclusion is even worse.

At worst, Sundays in church give hours of boredom in which the young mind can roam. Kids don’t get much of a chance to get bored. As the filmmaker Peter Weir once said, the creative mind should actively seek boredom. My children’s schooling is more engaging than mine and their leisure hours are filled with more varied activity. A little boredom now and then, sitting in church while they’re thinking about something else, can send them off to new places inside the lozenges of those stained-glass windows. The boredom of that Sunday hour, if boredom is the worst of it, might be more precious than it seems.

So lock your kids in a closet for a few hours every week.

No, boredom is not a virtue. There’s a difference between boredom and having leisure time…and an even greater difference between leisure and compulsory silence and immobility.

How about this: instead of church, give the poor kids two hours of free time on Sunday morning — no chores, no forced activity — and turn them loose in a room full of books and toys. And don’t sermonize at them, but tell them that they can talk to mommy and daddy all they want, and you’ll listen.

Jeez, but this Knox fellow seems like a sucky father.